A Massacre is Not a Massacre

Earlier today, I came across a short poem-essay on Electronic Intifada by Ghassan Hage, a professor of anthropology at the University of Melbourne.  He  writes, with palpable irony, about the inverted narrative of Palestine – an inversion that manifests itself in a form of  ‘truth telling’ that is tantamount to lies.

A Massacre is Not a Massacre

I don’t write poems but, in any case, poems are not poems.

Long ago, I was made to understand that Palestine was not Palestine; I was also informed that Palestinians were not Palestinians; They also explained to me that ethnic cleansing was not ethnic cleansing. And when naive old me saw freedom fighters they patiently showed me that they were not freedom fighters, and that resistance was not resistance. And when, stupidly, I noticed arrogance, oppression and humiliation they benevolently enlightened me so I can see that arrogance was not arrogance, oppression was not oppression, and humiliation was not humiliation.

I saw misery, racism, inhumanity and a concentration camp. But they told me that they were experts in misery, racism, inhumanity and concentration camps and I have to take their word for it: this was not misery, racism, inhumanity and a concentration camp. Over the years they’ve taught me so many things: invasion was not invasion, occupation was not occupation, colonialism was not colonialism and apartheid was not apartheid.

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Bagram Detainees Denied Habeas: Can we say ‘Insidious,’ Mr. President?

In order to reveal something about the salience of incoherence in today’s world, let’s examine this recent event:

On May 21st, the Appeals Court for the District of Columbia ruled that detainees at Bagram do not have the right to habeas corpus; that is, the right to challenge their detention; that is, the same right that was extended to Guantanamo detainees in two separate Supreme Court rulings, Rasul (2004) and Boumediene (2008). The Bagram decision was based on reasoning that because the prison is located in Afghanistan – a zone of active combat –  the precedent in Boumediene, concerning Guantanamo Bay, cannot be applied.  Additionally, the Court ruled that while the United States, in maintaining full and complete control over Guantanamo Bay for over a century, was constitutionally required to provide detainees with the right to challenge their detention, the status of Bagram  was a different case because the U.S. does not intend to maintain control over Bagram with any “permanence.”  At first, the logic of the court, which is grounded in Supreme Court precedent, ‘may’ sound compelling to the reader, but this is where things get sticky…..

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Blackwater’s Youngest Victim

On the evening of May 25th, I had the pleasure of attending the premiere of  Jeremy Scahill’s brave new documentary, Blackwater’s Youngest Victim. The film, which is a collaborative effort by Scahill and Rick  Rowley of Big Noise Films, tells the story of nine year old Ali Khanani, who was shot by Blackwater mercenaries on September 16, 2007 in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

Nisour Square is considered to be the highest profile deadly incident involving Blackwater–or any private war contractor.  The government’s case against five former Blackwater security guards charged with manslaughter and firearms violations in the Nisour Square incident was supposed to finally hold private security companies accountable for their alleged crimes. However, earlier this year, federal court judge Ricardo Urbina decided  to dismiss that case. Rather than focusing on the evidence that existed against these men, Urbina based his decision for dismissal on the grounds that prosecutors in the case had committed gross misconduct and violated  the constitutional rights of Blackwater men. The administration responded to the courts decision with assurances that the dismissal would be appealed, but legal analysts everywhere predict that the case is a losing battle. And, perhaps we should not be surprised given the administration’s painstakingly apparent contradictory agenda in both claiming that it wants to hold Blackwater accountable, while simultaneously maintaining Blackwater (now Xe) as a war contractor in what can only be described as the most privatized war in history. As Scahill’s ongoing reporting for The Nation suggests, the number of private contractors currently hired by the state has more than doubled under the Obama Administration.

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More Constitutional Buffoonery…

Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights speaks candidly about the latest bad joke from Senator Joe Lieberman and Republican Scott Brown, who have co-sponsored a new bill, the Terrorist Ex-Patriation Act,  which seeks to strip Americans charged with terrorism of their U.S. citizenship.

According to Lieberman, the new bill simply ‘updates’ an existing statute that has been “on the books for seventy years”. As Lieberman sees it, “If the President can  authorize the killing of a United States citizen because he is fighting for a foreign terrorist organization…..we can also have a law that allows the U.S. government to revoke a locked-in citizenship.”

Ghosts: Documenting Unseen Stories

Canadian documentarian Morvary Samare’s brave new film, Ghosts, premiered last month at the Human Rights Film Festival in Montreal. The film reveals the stories of three Canadian-Arab men who were detained and tortured in Syria and Egypt for months and years only to later be released without  charges. The film raises a number of important questions concerning the use of torture and the role of the Canadian government in these cases. As Samare notes, while the case of another Canadian citizen detained and tortured in Syria, Maher Arar, received enormous attention in the media, the cases of the three men featured in Ghost – Abdullah Almalki, Muayyed Nureddin and Ahmad Abou El-Maati – received none at all. Recent reports have revealed that although the Canadian government was aware that these men were detained and possibly being tortured, officials did little or nothing to question the validity of their detention. Instead, the government maintained that all of information pertaining to their cases concerned national security and as such, were state secrets.  

Here’s a link to a recent CTV interview with Morvary Samare, the producer and director of the film (as well as one of the founders of RamzMedia)

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Heading in the ‘Right’ Direction?

With speculation growing over who President Obama will nominate to replace the retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, three top contenders have emerged: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, US Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland and US Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood. In an interview with Democracy Now! legal analyst and contributor for Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald discusses the nominees, focusing in particular on why the nomination of Elena Kagan threatens to shift an already conservative judiciary further to the right. 

Particularly alarming about Kagan’s track record is that when Bush-Cheney were abusing inherent executive power, Kagan was a robust defendant of the admnistration’s claim that the entire world was a battlefield and that executive had the right to indefinitely detain….well…anyone! 

Unequal Before the Law

Two weeks before Israel planned to withdraw from Gaza, 19-year-old Eden Natan-Zada boarded a bus en route to Shafr’ Amr and opened fire on Arab passengers, killing four and injuring a dozen before  he was attacked and killed as news of the shootings spread, creating an angry mob.  Currently, 12 Arab men are being prosecuted by the Israeli state for the murder of Natan-Zada. This case has become a point of entry into a larger debate concerning what many feel is an existing double standard  in the application of the law between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Film-maker Tony Stark’s One Law for All, examines how Israel’s Arab citizens have been and are currently being subjected to an institutional form of racism through the unequal application of the law. The Israeli state’s reticence in recognizing the attack by Natan-Zada as an act of terrorism is just one of the many ways in which Stark reveals this legal imbalance.  Segments from Stark’s documentary, which references multiple cases in which the Israeli state has neglected incidents in which Palestinians have been killed by Jewish Israelis, were aired on Al Jazeera’s People & Power earlier this week: 

Guantanamo: So much for Change

According to a recent poll by CNN, public support for closing down GTMO has dropped 12 points over the past 14 months. Shortly before Obama’s inauguration, 51 percent of Americans said they thought the facility in Cuba should be closed. Now this number is down to 39 percent, and six in ten believe the United States should continue to operate Guantanamo.

This drop in numbers might indicate the public’s aversion to the idea of having alleged ‘terrorists’ on U.S. soil or may be due to a general fear of the return of legal rights that it is assumed would accompany such a shift. To this end, the public appears to overestimate the government’s intentions, for even if Guantanamo detainees were transferred to the United States, this shift cannot be assumed as indicative of a change in detention policies. The upcoming trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi, who has been detained in the United States since 2007, indicates that  this administration does not consider it unlawful to hold U.S. citizens with ‘alleged’ links to Al Qaeda under unconstitutional conditions. Bill Quigley, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has recently written the following concerning the treatment, legal conditions, and upcoming trial of Hashmi in the Huffington Post: Continue reading “Guantanamo: So much for Change”

Leaving al-Tanf

When hundreds of Palestinians fled Iraq in 2006, no country in the Middle East would accept them.  The UN eventually set up tent camps in ‘no man’s land’ between the Iraq-Syria border. While the camps were supposed to be a ‘temporary’ solution, it was not until the end of 2009 that a small number of refugees were finally granted permission to move to Italy, while others were told they would be transferred to refugee camps in the region. Edith Champagn’s Leaving Al Tanf documents the stories of  several Palestinian refugees as they prepare to uproot their lives yet again, compelling us to think about how the idea of home, and of time and waiting is experienced by those whose lives have overwhelmingly been marked by uncertainty, liminality, and loss.

Keep America Scared

Earlier this month, a bumbling Liz Cheney embarked upon a campaign to “Keep America Safe.”  According to this latest attempt at fear mongering, Cheney claims that 9 lawyers who are currently working for the Justice Department and who have previous experience with representing Guantanamo detainees, are basically ‘terrorist’ sympathizers…if not worse.  As usual, one of the best responses to this brand of lunacy comes from the inimitable Rachel Maddow, the great belier of absurdity.